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Sons and Daughters
By Brady Boyd
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Brady Boyd
All right reserved.
The most unmistakable spiritual orphan I have ever known is a man named Frank with whom I did ministry when I lived in Texas. Frank was the kind of driven fortysomething man who pursued every high-capacity job that became available and constantly scrutinized the church's organizational chart to determine how many boxes separated him from the top. He was irrationally consumed with proving himself, but it would be many months into our relationship before I'd learn why.
Frank was one of my direct reports, and each week he and I would convene for a one-hour oversight meeting. The purpose of our get-together was for me to help troubleshoot any major challenges he was facing in his role, and for him to update me on the critical issues unfolding in the various ministries he oversaw. But despite my clarifying these objectives numerous times, Frank used the meetings as opportunities to garner my praise by exhausting me with his good work. Each week, he would sit down across from me in my office, lean forward in his chair, and plunk down a thick clutch of papers with meticulously typed, single-spaced notes, questions, and concerns covering both front and back of each page.
Once he had the floor, he would start at the top of page 1 and work his way down to the bottom of the last side of the last sheet, and by that point I would be as badgered and beat as an at-home mom with eight kids. I appreciated Frank's thoroughness, but anyone who spends 20 percent of his time doing his job and the other 80 percent covering his rear end in case he happens to make a mistake is not going to last long on my team. Frank was dutifully following all the rules, but his leadership lacked intuition and strength.
After several of these agonizing sessions, I decided the madness must end. I explained to Frank that the following week I wanted him to come to our meeting with no more than three key discussion points and that I expected him to tackle his everyday work on his own. "Focus less on trying to prove yourself, Frank, and more on effectively leading your team."
Several months after our conversation, he still continued to struggle. Not just on the leadership front but also relationally. He seemed distrustful of his colleagues, even angry from time to time. A staff member would innocently question Frank about a particular ministry initiative, and Frank would erupt in frustration, as though that person were challenging Frank's character.
Finally, after a half-dozen of his emotional eruptions, I knew something had to give. I knew that I had an orphan spirit on my hands and that his only hope for healing was to walk the path toward "son." I called Frank into my office and said very calmly, "Listen, either you will get healthy, or I will fire you. Your behavior is bordering on abusive, and there is no place for abuse in this culture. Our people are too precious to be treated this way. And you are too precious to continue refusing help."
Grudgingly, Frank agreed to be led through a series of small group ministry sessions that teach biblical methods for breaking free from strongholds such as anger issues or addictions and invite people into the abundance Christ offers his followers. During his group's first session, Frank was asked to tell his story, beginning with his early childhood years.
Frank grew up with an alcoholic father who abandoned him and an impoverished mother who then gave him away. "I grew up in an orphanage," Frank explained. "My mom had abdicated her parental rights, and so I spent my entire childhood holed away in a children's home, waiting for a family to stop in that might want a kid like me."
Every other Saturday, Frank and all of the other discards would take baths, dress in their best clothes, and stand nervously in a line in the common area as prospective parents entered the building and looked them over. "At three and four years old, I was small for my age—scrawny even," Frank said. "To make matters worse, I had terrible eyesight. I wore Coke-bottle glasses with thick black frames, and twice a month, just like clockwork, I was overlooked by those moms and dads, all of whom wanted a 'normal' child." Frank was the smelly, mangy mutt at the kennel that nobody wants to take home.
When Frank was five, an older kid in the orphanage began sexually abusing him. "I didn't know what he was doing," Frank explained, "but I knew that it hurt and that I didn't like it at all." Frank summoned some courage and privately approached his houseparent with the facts: one of the older boys was doing something to him that was painful and upsetting, and something should be done to make him stop. The houseparent looked into the eyes of that wounded five-year-old and said, "you mustn't make up stories like that, Frank. Now run along and play."
At this point in the freedom ministry session, Frank looked at me and said, "Brady, I made a vow as a five-year-old that people weren't to be trusted and that I'd never have a place to belong." Frank had carried those orphan agreements with him for three-plus decades too long.
One Saturday when Frank was eight years old, a couple entered the orphanage and decided that among all the children, they liked Frank best. They told the houseparent to have Frank ready for pickup the following weekend and that they would return at a designated time to take him home. Frank spent the week floating on the clouds.
The following Saturday, after putting on his only pair of dress slacks and a button-down shirt, Frank perched himself on the threadbare couch in the home's main entryway, figuring he shouldn't risk missing his new parents when they arrived. Frank stayed in that seat through breakfast, lunch, and the handful of bathroom breaks he needed but refused to take, until finally, late that afternoon, one of the houseparents came to Frank and said, "Listen, son, they're not coming."
Frank was dumbfounded. "But they said that they would be here!"
In the end, the couple craved a daughter. And the unwanted mutt remained flat on the kennel floor.
Frank slunk back to his room, where he undressed and put on his play clothes, and then sat in stunned silence the rest of the day.
When Frank turned eleven, another couple showed interest in the young boy. Hesitant to believe he really might be chosen, he hedged his bets and kept his expectations low. But two Saturdays later the couple returned, helped Frank pack his bags, and took him home to live with them. Adopted at last—by a family to call his own.
During Frank's sophomore year of college, he surrendered his life to Christ and began studying to become a pastor. But he never dealt with the orphan spirit that had been hardwired in his soul. He knew all the right things to think; he just couldn't transport them to his heart. Frank bore out what I have consistently found to be true: spiritual orphans are the easiest people to point toward faith in Jesus Christ but the most difficult to disciple. They say yes to family, but they have no idea how to walk out the realities that new relationship affords. They desperately want to belong, but once they are given a seat at the table, they decline dinner day after day. They don't believe that God really wants them around, that he's actually excited to call them his own.
But that's exactly what ephesians 1 says about God, that he is brought great "pleasure" when we live as his daughters and sons. We bring our Father divine delight when we approach him confidently, trust him deeply, seek him intently, and are clear about the worth of our role.
We all start out as Franks in this world, believing we are unseen, unwanted, and unloved. But by God's grace, we don't have to stay there. We don't have to stay orphans for long.
Chapter TwoTHE CRY OF THE ORPHAN HEART
Last year, the pastor of our ministry to college students, Aaron Stern, invited fifty-five mature men who are devoted followers of Jesus Christ to one of the group's weekly gatherings. Toward the end of the worship ser vice, Pastor Aaron asked his wife and four young sons to join him onstage, and in front of more than a thousand college students that evening, he prayed a prayer of blessing over each of his boys. With loving arms wrapped around them, he thanked God for his sons' unique personalities and spiritual gifts. He affirmed his boys for wanting to make choices that honor God and for being such a delight to their parents. He prayed for God's will to be done in their lives. He prayed for their safety, for their protection, for their provision, for their peace. And then he went down the line, placing his hands on each boy's shoulder, saying, "you're a great son! I love you, and I'm thankful for you. I bless you in the name of Jesus Christ. And here tonight, I want to tell you that your mom and I are pleased with you. We are for you. And we can't wait to see what God continues to do in and through your life."
The room was silent for several minutes as the group took in what they had just seen. Pastor Aaron then looked at the eyes staring back at him from the crowd and said, "I know many of you have never had a dad pray for you like that. You've never had someone you look up to say they love you and are thankful for you and are pleased with who you are becoming.
"You've never had a dad lovingly lay hands on your shoulders and say he's on your side. You've never been encouraged in this type of meaningful way.
"And so," he continued, "I decided that tonight, that ought to change."
The fifty-five men—some elders, some staff, all members of New Life Church—were then invited to come to the front of the room and form an arc around the stage. "If you have never received a prayer of blessing from a father," Aaron said, "these men are ready to serve you tonight. Come down front, shake hands with one of them, and let them hug you and pray over your life."
As soon as the ser vice was dismissed, the room tipped over as hundreds of young men and women crowded the altar, their faces stained with tears. Some of those kids went through the line and received prayer, only to get back in line again. They were sponges soaking up long-awaited care. They were orphans trying to come home.
* * *
If you were to put your ear to the ground of modern culture today, you would hear the agonized cries of an orphan heart: Doesn't anybody notice me? See me? Value me? Want me? Is there anywhere for me to belong?
I'd be willing to bet that easily more than half of our population has never had an earthly father place his hands on their shoulders and with warmth and sincerity pray a prayer of blessing over their lives. They have never once heard the words, "you are my son ... my daughter ... and I delight in you." They have never known the feeling of truly being seen, of being loved. Of being cheered on in the same way that God affirmed his own Son.
Just before Jesus began his public ministry here on planet earth, he chose to be baptized by John, as a way of letting onlookers know that he was devoted to following his heavenly Father's will rather than going the world's way with his life. Matthew 3 says that "as soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased' " (vv. 16–17).
That single verse of Scripture launched the most impactful season of ministry the world ever has known, and confirmed for all eternity that Jesus was no orphan. He was no slave. He was God's one and only Son. And with him God was pleased.
Do you know how drastically the crime rate in the United States alone would drop if all children grew up knowing they were pleasing to their dads? Do you know how precipitously the divorce rate in this country would fall if every boy, every girl, grew up knowing he or she was precious to an earthly dad? Do you know how much pain could be spared if we could just get this one thing right?
I think the answer would stagger us both.
* * *
I remember like it was yesterday the season of my dad's death. His health had been declining steadily, and one night, there in the small living room of my parents' house, I sat beside my highly medicated father as he reclined on the couch. He was in and out of coherence, so I tried to time my comments with his more lucid moments. At one point, I caught his eye and said, "Dad, you have been a great father to me. You really have." I told him what I valued most about his parenting and about his friendship, and I expressed to him what I would miss most once he departed this earthly life. Nearly every day of my life, my dad had told me that I was smart, that I was talented, that I could be anything I wanted to be. He told me that he was proud of me, that he was pleased with me, and that he loved me more than I ever would know. I knew no limitations to my capability, because in Dad's eyes, I could fly. No one else would ever love me exactly the way my dad did.
I looked into my frail father's eyes and said, "you know, the only thing I would ask of you is that you would pray a prayer of blessing on my life. You have been so affirming through the years, but you've never laid hands on me and prayed for me.... It would mean so much to me if you would do that, Dad."
I'm not sure how I expected my father to respond, but seeing him convulse with waves of tears was nowhere on the list. I had never seen my dad cry uncontrollably, never heard guttural moans like that. In an attempt to quell his tears, I reiterated the positives. "Dad, you got fathering so right! you are an amazing dad, and I love you deeply. All I want you to do is to lay hands on me and pray for me. I just need to hear the words of a prayer like that from my one and only dad."
Still, he couldn't do it. I don't know if it was the emotion of the moment or his grave situation in general or that he simply didn't know what to say; all I know is that I never received that prayer.
That evening, realizing I never would be given my father's blessing, I laid my hands on his shoulders and blessed him instead. "Lord, I thank you for Dad," I said. "I thank you for his life and for his legacy. I love this man, and I feel overwhelming gratitude for having been placed in his family as his son. I know he is pleasing to you ... and he is pleasing to me too."
I asked God to relieve my dad's ever-increasing physical pain, I asked him to heal the disease that was ravaging his body, and I prayed that he would assure my dad of a life well lived, a home well led, a family well loved. Tears continued to stream down my father's face as I embraced him that night. That brief time of prayer remains one of the most meaningful memories I carry of my dad.
* * *
Most people I meet who are plagued by an orphan spirit believe that Jesus Christ can save them; they just can't seem to fathom how he enjoys them too. It's interesting, isn't it? The cry of the orphan heart is, Won't somebody please see anything remotely worthwhile in me? And all the while God lovingly says, I do. I really do.
Every weekend at New Life, as I am dismissing the ser vice, I ask our congregation to take time before they leave to introduce themselves to two or three people they do not know. It's not just a fleeting comment; there is deep purpose behind my reminder. What goes through my mind as I say those words is, Please, New Life, do what I'm asking you to do. Please let God lead you to a possible divine encounter. The power of even a passing word can radically change a life.
Countless people sitting in our auditorium every weekend carry an orphan spirit. They are unimpressed by flashy lights, loud surround sound, and the slightly above-average speaker on the stage. What impresses them—what really moves them—is to be seen. To be acknowledged. To be greeted. To be embraced. To be cared for and prayed for and loved.
God knows it's what moves us all. He knows that's what brings us home.
Chapter ThreeIT AIN'T ABOUT MONEY, AND IT AIN'T ABOUT SEX
Given what I do for a living, I get a steady stream of folks through my office who look to me to help fix whatever is broken in their lives. I have met with men, women, couples, teenagers, believers, people living far from God, people who believe there is no God, and more. Their problems have run the gamut of troubling issues: drug addiction, alcohol addiction, adultery, strife. Bitterness and anger and depression and grief. Marriage troubles, parenting troubles, troubles with bosses and friends. Investments gone bad and bank accounts dried up and job loss and foreclosure and pain.
They are wounded, worried, and weak, and wonder how to right all that is wrong. And it's with shoulders slumped from all this weight that they step into my office and sit down.
A frustrated man and a weary woman are seated across from me, the looks on their faces begging me to glue back together the shattered fragments of their marriage. He was raised by an alcoholic father and a distant mother; she was raised by combative parents who largely led separate lives. Neither of them was shown how to give love, how to receive love, how to contribute to health in the home. It was against this distressing backdrop that they said their heartfelt "I dos."
Excerpted from Sons and Daughters by Brady Boyd Copyright © 2012 by Brady Boyd. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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